VN pearls have the world as their oyster

(Source: vietmaz.com)

The pearls are natural and have never been processed or polished. They were carefully selected by the Hoang Gia Pearl Company and bring a freshness to the collection: A value of long-standing and everlasting history that is irreplaceable.

Pearls have been said to be a precious natural gift endowed to countries with the advantage of having a long coastline, like Viet Nam.

From the northern province of Quang Ninh to the southern province of Kien Giang, four main kinds of oysters have been found to produce pearls, namely the P. fucata martensii (produces Akoya pearls), P.penguin, P. margaritifera (produces black Tahiti pearls) and the P.maxima (makes golden South Sea pearls).

It is recorded in history that many hundreds of years ago, Vietnamese pearls used to be very famous. Right by the sea near Bai Tu Long National Park in Quang Ninh, there are many legends associated with pearls that the Vietnamese still take pride in. Many islands in the area are named after this precious gift, like Minh Chau (Bright Pearl) or Ngoc Vung (Luminous Pearl), which are the pride of local people.

However, just over ten years ago, Vietnamese pearls were still considered a potential resource that had not been properly exploited. They used to be harvested in nature or raised in rare traditional small farms without using any modern technology. The pearl industry or even a brand name for Vietnamese pearls seemed to be a long off vision at that time.

The biggest are the Vietnam Pearl Joint-stock Company is the Hoang Gia Pearl Company, which hold almost 80 per cent of domestic market share. The others are mainly small enterprises producing pearls to serve tourists.

Origins of a brand-name

Thirteen years ago, a group of French specialists travelled to Viet Nam to study and begin a project to raise oysters for pearls in certain coastal areas. One of the key participants in the project was Ho Thanh Tuan, who later establish the Hoang Gia Pearl Company.

Tuan spent six years on Con Dao Island in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau and brings over one million of black, silver or sparkling golden pearls to the mainland every year. These shining pearls are the result of all the sweat and tears that the devoted 37-year-old man has put in, plus his endless love for these gifts of nature.

“The sea in Con Dao is different from others around the world because it is suitable for many kinds of oysters, which explains why, with the same sea water, I could culture pearls of different colours, the most valuable of which is golden”, says Tuan.

“Pearl farming depends largely on the sea’s environment. A polluted environment always leads to certain failure and other elements should also been taken into consideration like salinity and water depth, when raising different kinds of oysters”, he says.

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Quality control: Ho Thanh Tuan checks a pearl oyster cage off Hon Tam Island

Under the right conditions, it takes at least five years before an oyster becomes mature enough to produce a pearl, and the success rate is about 40 per cent. For pearls over 10mm, it might take up to seven or even ten years.

However, most of the crude pearls harvested in Viet Nam are exported to Japan, the biggest pearl market in the world. However, some surveys have shown that the demand for pearls in Viet Nam is rising. Many expensive pearl products from hundreds to thousands of dollars have been successfully sold to both domestic and foreign tourists. A new market has started to open up, so besides production for exports, the developing and trading of pearl jewellery for domestic demand must also be taken into consideration.

After the French left the project in 2007, at the start of the global economic crisis, Tuan took a risk by setting up the first and biggest pearl jewellery firm in Ho Chi Minh City. It has gathered hundreds of pearl workers together to produce large quantities of pearl jewellery at reasonable prices, so that Vietnamese women can also experience the true beauty of pearls.

The company’s situated in Con Dao and Nha Trang, two islands that have ideal ecological conditions and waters for producing precious pearls. Thanks to that, Tuan’s company can now establish stable sources of supply and ensure they can satisfy market demands.

Products from the Hoang Gia Pearl and Halong companies as well as of many other manufacturing centres in the country have passed all the strictest verifications and are successfully exported to the markets of developed countries.

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Pearl inventions

How do you establish a globally recognised brand name for Vietnamese pearls around the world? This is a question that many young Vietnamese pearl jewellery makers, like Tuan and Trung, are desparately keen to answer.

After two years studying a range of ideas that could characterise the nation’s features on cultured pearls, Tuan finally succeeded by engraving some decorative patterns of a bronze drum (a Vietnamese cultural icon) onto pearl then implant it into the oyster again and raise in another year.

According to Tuan, if the oyster is raised in a longer time, the images will be lost because the oyster will secrete a thicker layer of nacre to cover the surface of the pearl. With proper time, the pearl that is re-harvested will produce unique blurred decorative patterns. With this unique invention, Tuan has realised his ambition of introducing an exclusive kind of pearls that bears Viet Nam’s cultural images.

Tuan’s creativity went further, when he has successfully created pearls by transplanting teeth into the oysters. After this breakthrough, he submitted an application to the National Office of Intellectual Property of Viet Nam, to request for patents on his two inventions.

According to a spokesperson for the office, Tuan’s two methods met all the necessary standards. The assessment has proved that his inventions are unprecedented and have never been registered anywhere else before. “If nothing changes, Tuan will receive patents for his inventions by the end of this year,” adds the spokesperson.

Recently, with the aim of casting the nation’s spirit into pearls, the Hoang Gia Pearl Company has given fashion designer Vo Viet Chung 20,000 two year old pearls, worth over VND10 billion ($500,000) for his collection, “Hue khoi xu Nam Ky”.

“I admired his strong will for starting this business, so I used my initiative and got better acquainted with Tuan. We share the same ambitions, so I have decided to work with him in my forthcoming projects introducing Viet Nam’s quintessence to friends around the world,” said Chung.

“Tuan has taken a risk that no-one else has before, in raising pearl oysters”, says Nguyen Van Hung, the chairman of the Saigon Jewellery Association, “but success comes to everyone who accepts the challenges and risks.”

He has taken great pains to study and establish a closed process for raising oysters for pearls, from producing the breeding oysters to raising and finally turning them into the finished product, to avoid producing low quality, cheaper crude pearls.

“This closed process has been a big success for many other pearl businesses, including leading ones in Japan and India,” he says.

Thanks to all his efforts, Tuan has helped to build up one of the biggest pearl enterprises in Viet Nam, with the renowned brand-name, SPICA pearls.

Budding business: Gathering hundreds of workers together to produce large quantities of pearl jewellery at reasonable prices, Hoang Gia Pearl Company is gradually conquering domestic demand. — Photos courtesy of Hoang Gia Pearl Company.

Budding business: Gathering hundreds of workers together to produce large quantities of pearl jewellery at reasonable prices, Hoang Gia Pearl Company is gradually conquering domestic demand. — Photos courtesy of Hoang Gia Pearl Company.

Challenges ahead

Now, with all his experience, Tuan confirms that Viet Nam has the right conditions and opportunities to develop a pearl industry and establish a pearl brand-name. However, according to him, the biggest difficulty is the shortage of a coordinated plan.

The biggest plan of the 37-year-old businessman Tuan at present is to focus on improving the quality and quantity of pearl products by manipulation.

“Viet Nam’s pearl jeuelley brands are still inferior to their counterparts in developed countries in terms of its quality and quantity. So our long term goal is to create Viet Nam’s own brand name for pearls instead of just selling the crude products.

“Besides our plan to expand the chain of Hoang Gia Pearl stores across the country, we are also attempting to conquer strictly regulated pearl markets such as Switzerland, Dubai and several other countries,” says Tuan.

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Glittering success: Suc Song (Vitality) and Qua Cua Bien (Gift of The Sea) jewellery collections by Hoang Gia Pearl Company. The aim of the company is to enable Vietnamese women to experience the true beauty of pearls produced in Viet Nam. — Photos courtesy of Hoang Gia Pearl Company.

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